Krakow had quite a large Jewish community for centuries, and it witnessed the darkest hours during the Nazi invasion of Krakow. See the principal landmarks commemorating the life – and death – of Jewish population below.
1. Kazimierz district
Kazimierz district is where Jewish community lived for centuries, and it still carries its Jewish heritage – there are the Jewish cemetery, kosher restaurants, and Galicia Jewish Krakow Museum just to mention a few. However, it is also known as a hipster district now (and that’s true, I’ve seen so many cool cafes and shops there!)
Plac Nowy is the main square of Kazimierz. Now it’s filled with stalls selling food of all kinds, also I’ve spotted some vintage and modern clothes on sale! And yes, did I mention that there are dozens of eating options including kosher ones nearby too?
2. Old Synagogue
Kazimierz is where the Jewish population of Krakow used to live, and The Old Synagogue building at its very heart is the oldest synagogue in Poland. So it’s a must visit during our exploration of Jewish Krakow!
It was erected in the 15th century and massively rebuilt in the 16th century representing the fortress synagogue in the architectural style, luted by Germans during WWII, and restored in 1950.
Now it operates as a museum showcasing the traditions and life of Jewish community in Poland and it’s a must visit during tour exploration of Jewish Krakow history.
3. Schindler’s Factory
Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory museum is a former metal item factory where Schindler, a German businessman and a member of Nazi party, employed over 1000 Jews recruited through the ghetto wage office under the Nazi occupation of Krakow.
His efforts provided them with better working conditions, more food and eventually saved them from going to the concentration camps because Schindler evacuated his workers to another location. If you want to learn more about it, watch Schindler’s list movie (1993) directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, and Ralph Fiennes.
Now it’s a large immersive museum where you travel between different locations within Krakow and learn about how Germans got control over Krakow during WWII and how the terrifying situation in the Krakow Jewish ghetto, Auschwitz concentration camp and overall in Poland unfolded. I know it sounds strange in this context but the museum is very well made, and you can spend hours there reading all the documents about all that terror, pain and deaths Nazis brought to this part of the world.
Nearby you can find the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków, MACAK.
4. Ghetto wall fragment
Although on the site of the former Jewish ghetto there are now living houses, shops, cafes and the life goes on and on, you can still see the remnants of it: there is a fragment of ghetto wall built in 1941 and shaped as the tombstones (Germans did that on purpose symbolising future deaths for the ghetto population).
It’s marked with a metal plaque in Hebrew and Polish saying the following: ‘Here they lived, suffered and died at the hands of the German torturers. From here they began their final journey to the death camps.’
5. Ghetto Heroes Square
Next we headed to Ghetto Heroes Square (Podgórze district), formerly Zgody square. It was the main site where Jews were gathered before their deportations and then were transferred to Płaszów, Belzec or Auschwitz where they died in the gas chambers or from hunger, illnesses and unbearable conditions or were simply beaten to death.
Now you can see the installation of 33 empty large metal chairs and 37 smaller ones representing the possessions left behind by people of the ghetto sent to death.
6. Pharmacy Under the Eagle
The only non-Jewish business of the ghetto is linked to this place: the Under the Eagle pharmacy, located on the corner of Ghetto heroes square.
It was the only pharmacy allowed in ghetto, and Tadeusz Pankiewicz, the pharmacy’s owner, and his associates, Irena Droździkowska, Aurelia Danek-Czortowa, and Helena Krywaniuk, non-jews themselves, allowed Jews to secretly meet in his pharmacy and helped them with food and medicines. Now all the rooms of the former pharmacy are occupied by a permanent exhibition.
You can also visit Auschwitz in just a short trip from Krakow (I visited in back in 2008).
You might also like my other blog about Poland:
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